Friday, June 27, 2014

Changes at Sea, 1970- now

The role of women In the sailing ship days of lore, the Captain’s wife was the only women on board. Far from idle, she was the nurse to officers on board. Mrs. Mary Patten was one such wife, who cared for her sick husband while helping the remaining officers with celestial navigation. She had a Liberty ship named in her honor, as well as the USMMA’s health clinic. Later on, as voyages shortened, and captains left their wives at home, the women aboard were passengers. Acknowledging the salacious desires of young deckhands and grease-monkeys, only officers (who presumably had manners) were permitted to talk with passengers. In the days before insurance liability and port security, local women were often invited onboard during the extended ports of call. Many sailors found wives this way, and these “port brides” were often interracial marriages in an age when it was rare. Today, women are found in all positions aboard ship, in the Steward and Deck departments. It was a struggle to tear down the masculine wall: though the Coast Guard had no restrictions on licensing women for sea, the USMMA was the first Maritime School in the US to admit women to a “licensing” major, beginning in 1974. The other schools would join by 1981. Even more remarkable is the entrance of women into the Engine Department. (But old barriers linger: Most women engineering graduates of the USMMA still pursue alternatives such as military service or government work ashore). Today, all deck officers are proficient in terrestrial and celestial navigation before graduating maritime school or getting a license. Food on board: predictable today. Dry staples garnished with local meat and vegetables. Hasn’t been lacking since World War Two. For food safety purposes, shipping companies plan to stock enough fresh food for a roundtrip voyage. Non-perishable milk cartons are taken for the trip. The steward knows better though, and he or she will ensure that fresh vegetables are brought onboard overseas. Today, the Coast Guard requires 2300 calories. Since last year, these calories must be part of a well-balanced diet, thus formally ending the long-gone days of bread-and-water rations as a punishment. Eating the dog Out of respect for the host, it is obligatory that you have a bite of what is offered, even when it is man’s best friend. “I’d never pay for it, though”, said one captain. Today, ports stays are shorter, so there is less interaction with locals. And those locals who interact with crewmembers, such as the port agent, understand American cultural norms: dogs are friends, not food. On my trip to Korea, lamb skewers were a staple, but the dogs remained no more than pets. More to Come Later...

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Unconquerable Crown

If you were looking for the synonym for a good time, it’s found with the exclamation: “PREAK-NESS!”. Preakness, for my classmates, started with travel plans for getting to Baltimore. Because of parking limitations, only Seniors can keep cars on campus. But enough seats were found, including some in an RV. Baltimore promised a cheaper, less stuffy night on the town; and the neighborhood bars provided opportunity for young, white working-class Baltimorean ladies to meet the collegiate, yet salty, types. Preakness occurred on Saturday. In high school, some of the “cool” kids went to Preakness. What it was to them was beach week- without the local NIMBY (not in my backyard) types looking to shut down the party. Saturday was the race day. It was a day for casual button-down attire (unbuttoned shirts skirted the shirt-and-shoes requirement). Among the festivities, California Chrome won the second race of the Triple Crown at 6:10 betting odds. (A friend took home $160 off a $100 bet for the horse). When Belmont approached, there was pretty good hype about the dwindling sport. I’m not a horse fan, but I paid attention. And there are of course some who see horse racing as an outdated practice, where these pampered horses mask a bleak, invisible world we’d rather not see. But California Chrome, the horse with potential, was easy to make comparisons to legendary race horses of lore. I remarked about the similarity between the legendary Seabiscuit (though never a Triple Crown winner) and the horse in question, California Chrome. On the first note, neither horse was supposed to be a winner. Seabiscuit was too small. Chrome wasn’t of good pedigree. They were bought from the bargain bin. And both horses were photogenic, and both liked to sleep a lot. But, as has happened 12 times since 1978, a hyped horse, twice winner, is tripped up by the extra ¼ mile of the Belmont racetrack. Through a special military member deal with the racetrack, a number of Kings Point midshipmen were able to attend the race- rather, event- where history could be made. I was pre-scheduled with a swanky event in downtown Manhattan with the Port Engineers of New York during the start time of 6:52pm. For those at Belmont, and those watching on TV, there were several hours of hype before the marquee event. In three minutes, it was over. After California Chrome came in two horse-lengths short, it was time to move on with life. Because of the way the spur track was designed, the special racetrack train station couldn’t handle the crowd. After an hour to two of human gridlock, the MTA fixed the problem with shuttle buses to the main transfer point some 10 minutes away. Also happening in New York that night was a Rangers’ hockey playoff game. Yes, I remember, because it was standing-room only, with heavy police presence, heading back to Kings Point. That was when I found out that I hadn’t missed history. In 1978, the last year that a horse, Affirmed, won the three races (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont), Gerald Ford was President, Vermont voted Republican, and the drinking age at Belmont, in New York, was 18. While they might card for drinks today, they still turn a blind eye to some things at the race track: I have a classmate who grew up in Baltimore near the racetrack. In high school, he netted a small profit on the horses. “18 to bet on the horses? I don’t know about that”. It is of note that the Triple Crown was conquered in 1973 and 1977 as well.